Appendix Two (Chapter Three, Note 74)
The German Threat as a Pretext for Defense against Russia

There is a common tendency, even among professional historians, to take what statesmen say in public at face value. But the real motivation behind a given policy often differs substantially from the public rationale. One can get at the real motivation only by examining declassified documents as they become available, but by the time they do, a conventional point of view may well have taken hold, and might in fact be hard to overcome.

The point applies with particular force to the interpretation of certain key measures taken by the west European powers during the immediate postwar period, especially the Dunkirk Treaty of 1947 and the Brussels Treaty of 1948. These treaties specifically alluded to the German threat, and that fact is often cited to support the claim that that problem was still the fundamental concern, especially for the French, in the late 1940s.

But the documentary evidence now available shows that this interpretation is rather misleading--that the Soviet threat was the overriding concern, and that as far as the responsible officials in the major west European governments were concerned, these texts were directed at Germany for essentially tactical reasons. Thus one leading French diplomat took it for granted as early as 1945 that the German threat could serve as a "pretext" for an Anglo-French security treaty.(1) Bidault's own views have become rather clear in recent years: as far as he was concerned, an Anglo-French treaty, even one formally directed at Germany, was practically from the start to be understood mainly in anti-Soviet terms.(2) Indeed, as early as September 1945 (in a meeting with Bevin) he referred to the German threat as a "convenient myth."(3)

British views are even clearer. In 1945, for example, one British Foreign Office official stressed the importance of "creating the Western Group while it can still be presented as a defence system directed against Germany."(4) The British military authorities had been arguing along these lines even during the war. The Chiefs of Staff, for example, had pointed out in 1944 that Russia was likely to be the problem after the war, that it was important, however, not to antagonize that country "by giving the appearance of building up the Western European block against her," and that for that reason, "the immediate object of a Western European group must be the keeping down of Germany." The Chief of the Imperial General Staff argued in July of that year that Russia would be the real threat after the war, that the German problem therefore had to be seen in a different light, that Germany in fact needed to be built up and brought into a west European federation, but that this had to be done "under the cloak of a holy alliance between England, Russia and America." This was still a major consideration during the negotiation of what was to become the Dunkirk Treaty. If that treaty were not officially directed against Germany, the Foreign Office now felt, this might offend the Russians and create unnecessary problems in other quarters--for example, with the French Communist Party.(5)

The same general point applies to the Brussels Treaty for a west European defense system, a document also formally directed against Germany. American officials argued at the time that the anti-German clause scarcely made sense in a treaty which aimed to set up a system designed eventually to include West Germany, except as a "screen for further defense measures"--but that, of course, was precisely what the drafters were trying to do.(6) For Bevin, the Brussels Treaty had to mention Germany, because a failure to do so "would be unnecessarily provocative to the Russians."(7) For Bidault, on the other hand, internal political concerns were fundamental, but the conclusion was the same: Germany had to be the ostensible target.(8)

That this tactic was at least partially successful in pulling the wool over people's eyes is reflected in the fact that people still often take the Dunkirk treaty, and sometimes even the Brussels treaty, at face value--that is, as reflecting a continuing preoccupation with the threat of German aggression.


1. Massigli to Bidault, November 20, 1945, MP/92/FFMA.

2. See Soutou, "La sécurité de la France dans l'après-guerre," pp. 28-29.

3. Dietmar Hueser, "Charles de Gaulle, Georges Bidault, Robert Schuman et l'Allemagne 1944-1950: Conceptions--Actions-- Perceptions," Francia 23:3 (1996), p. 64 n. 55.

4. Quoted in Rothwell, Britain and the Cold War, p. 412.

5. See Baylis, The Diplomacy of Pragmatism, pp. 21-22, 58-59. On the Dunkirk treaty itself, see B. Zeeman, "Britain and the Cold War, an Alternative Approach: The Treaty of Dunkirk Example," European History Quarterly, vol. 16 (July 1986); John Baylis, "Britain and the Dunkirk Treaty: The Origins of NATO," Journal of Strategic Studies, vol. 5 (1988); and Sean Greenwood, "Return to Dunkirk: The Origins of the Anglo-French Treaty of March 1947," Journal of Strategic Studies, vol. 6 (1989).

6. State Department policy paper, "Security against Germany," c. February 1948, FRUS 1948, 2:63; "Négociation de Bruxelles, 3 au 12 mars 1948," MP/79/FFMA.

7. Bevin to Paris embassy, March 9, 1948, quoted in Baylis, "Britain and the Dunkirk Treaty," p. 245.

8. He told the Americans that a defense pact directed against Russia had to refer specifically to Germany, but this was for "purely domestic political reasons." Caffery to Marshall, March 2, 1948, FRUS 1948, 3:34-35.